It never ceases to amazed me when someone asks what I, a physical therapist educator, am doing in the area of institutional research and strategic planning in academia. Years ago, when I transitioned to academia, my colleagues questioned why I would leave clinical practice to be an academic when the latter “causes more headaches” and pays less than clinical practice. I’ve always responded that, on average, I only can work on 12 patients per day. But by teaching 24 students in each of class how to effectively treat patients, I can indirectly serve more patients — up to 288 per day!

The questions increased when I decided to move into academic administration, conducting institutional research, analyzing collected data and creating strategic plans that are informed by data. It seems my colleagues have their ideas about what PTs — or any healthcare practitioner — should be doing. I believe such stereotyping limits us from achieving the benefits of the Medici Effect, a business theory developed by Frans Johansson.

The central tenet of the Medici Effect is that diverse disciplines drive innovation and that combining ideas from different disciplines, industries and cultures gives rise to the discovery of something remarkably unique, revolutionary and groundbreaking. Johansson said creative thinking occurs at the intersection of different fields, ideas and people.

I believe we subconsciously behave this way already in PT. We adopted the stages of motor skills learning, espoused by psychologists Paul Fitts, PhD, and Michael Posner, PhD, in 1967, to support our conceptual framework of motor control and motor relearning. We co-treat with occupational therapists and speech language pathologists, and the exchange of ideas during these sessions gives rise to novel treatment designs. Athletic trainers work side by side with PTs on college athletic teams, and somehow they come up with individualized treatments for their athletes. Although some of us may dislike it, rehabilitation departments are managed by RNs or individuals with a business background rather than healthcare, not by PTs, OTs or SLPs.

I think the fundamental issue for not fully realizing the benefits of the Medici Effect is our tendency to be narrowly focused on our designated role in healthcare and in providing patient care. We also become territorial, aiming for exclusivity in our field. These behaviors, in my opinion, could eventually lead to our respective professions becoming stale.

How do we harness the power of the Medici Effect? By looking at what other fields are doing that could provide answers to some of the issues we deal with in delivering patient care. For example, what can the field of engineering offer us to develop assistive devices to transfer patients from bed to wheelchair more efficiently, or to help them stand up from a chair? Can it help us conceptualize a new wheelchair design that is less cumbersome to fold and store in a car?

How about the fields of law, architecture or business? How can they help in our delivery of patient care? Conversely, what can we, as rehab practitioners, bring to other tables?

Going back to my colleagues’ question as to why I am conducting institutional research, analyzing collected data and creating strategic plans, my response is, “Just being a PT.” For me, researching and analyzing data are similar to evaluating a patient and setting short- and long-term goals based on assessment findings. Creating a strategic plan is akin to designing a treatment plan. In essence, the entire educational institution becomes my patient.

Simply put, I am just harnessing the power of the Medici Effect, using my skill set as a PT. Challenge yourself to do the same.